Kisenosato entered professional sumo in 2002 while still in his mid-teens. A native of Ibaraki Prefecture to the northeast of Tokyo and only age 20, he is perhaps the most promising young Japanese rikishi in sumo today.
MARK BUCKTON PHOTO
Earlier this year he reached the rank of komusubi in the sport’s senior most makunouchi division and is expected by many to go further, even as far as yokozuna.
Whether he does advance or not remains to be seen. He will next be stepping on the dohyo in the basho starting Nov. 12 in Kyushu. In an interview at Naruto Beya just prior to the Kyushu Basho the komusubi shed light on topics such as his initial embarrassment at wearing a mawashi, his opinion of foreigners in sumo and current taste in books.
Why did you enter sumo as a youngster?
I have always liked sumo and when I was a second-year student at elementary school we had a tournament. Wearing the mawashi was embarrassing, though, and I didn’t want to at first but when about five friends got together it was OK and we entered for fun.
Did any other sports interest you at that time?
For me, it has always been about sumo. From my third year at elementary school to my third year at junior high, for seven years, it was all sumo. I liked baseball when I was younger though. I was a (grins and lowers voice) Kyojin (Yomiuri Giants) fan at the time.
And nowadays — do you like watching any other sports on TV or live?
I still like baseball, but all the good Japanese players have left and gone to the major leagues so I watch the American game, but I don’t like any team in particular. I do like watching the Japanese players though. I also like to watch rugby but the Japanese top league and — for example — New Zealand players are completely different — it is like a different sport. I don’t watch the Japanese games.
What did your family think at the time you entered professional sumo?
My family really likes sumo so they had no problem at all. They were really happy in fact and I was so pleased to join. No pressures at all.
If you had the chance to go against one of the (68) yokozuna the sport of sumo has seen to date, who would you like to face?
This is a really difficult one. (More pondering and several thoughtful expressions later) I really don’t know. I entered sumo at the end of Takanohana’s time as a yokozuna so I saw him and Musashimaru and of course (have faced) Asashoryu but, wow, that’s a difficult one . . .
Now that you are a regular in the upper makunouchi ranks, how do you feel about all the foreign participation in sumo nowadays?
I know there are a lot of different nationalities now in sumo but I don’t see any of the foreign born rikishi as anything other than rikishi. Rikishi are rikishi to me.
In the stadiums and on television, via the Internet too, there seem to be more and more non-Japanese fans following the sport. Do you think this is good for sumo?
Definitely. At many of the basho I see more and more foreign people, even in the masu-seki box seats and it makes me happy as it gives me extra power to want to try harder.
In these days of so much dominance by non-Japanese rikishi, many Japanese and even foreign fans see yourself and Homasho-zeki as the bright Japanese hopes for the future — how do you feel about that?
I do like the attention, but there are so many rikishi in sumo nowadays that I just feel honored to be able to fight them as best I can.
Do you feel any local Ibaraki pride when going up against Ibaraki-born Miyabiyama-zeki?
Not at all (indicating in his voice and response that this is one he has been asked before and is used to hearing). If we had grown up together perhaps but Miyabiyama-zeki is 10 years my senior so I don’t feel anything special at all. I think he is 29 now.
What prompted your shikona change to Kisenosato — from Hagiwara? (Hagiwara is Kisenosato’s family name)
When I entered the juryo division (May, 2004) it was decided by my oyakata (Naruto Beya stable master) that when I entered makunouchi (November, 2004) I’d stop using Hagiwara and would take a shikona of his choosing.
You recently went to Taiwan as part of the official Nihon Sumo Kyokai party visiting the island — what was the highlight of your trip?
Taiwan was great. There is a Japanese “boom” there at the moment and I really had a good time, but my strongest memory is of the official welcoming ceremony, all the people and the Taiwanese officials there.
How do you relax when not training, touring or competing?
I like to watch sports on TV. I don’t go out much. I like staying in the stable watching TV or sports. I also like reading. I read books by Japanese authors on subjects about the body like ki (life-force energy) is a subject I find interesting and am reading about now. I read to study a little.
Given that this interview will go out on the pages of The Japan Times Online just prior to the basho, would you like to say a few words for the ever increasing numbers of foreign sumo fans around the world? In English?
(Laughing) Impossible. (to the English request) I don’t remember anything (from school).
Sumotori always make a lot of effort during training and we are always trying to climb the banzuke. When you come to see us it feels great and makes us want to try harder. (Kisenosato-zeki bows to indicate his appreciation).